I can remember it as clear as day: it was 1970. Pizza cost 15 cents. I was fifteen years old, in Junior High School, and this guy I knew came up to me with a little white bag and gave me something to sniff. As soon as I took it I was hooked. On one hand I thought, “This isn’t really me,” but on the other hand I wanted to be a part of something. First it was just heroin, and then came the Superfly era and cocaine.
I come from a decent family; my mother was involved in church and was a working woman, an educator. My father worked for the National Guard. Drug use wasn’t something they were expecting. I would come home high and my mother would say, “Something’s up with you, what’s going on?” I wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how. Back then, getting treatment for drug addiction wasn’t the norm. It was all very hush-hush. My father, for example, used to be a drinker—but he never kept liquor in the house. Whatever you did back then, you did it in secret.
So my transition into treatment wasn’t voluntary; it was court-ordered. I got arrested for heroin possession and went to juvenile detention for ten days. After that my mother told me she’d found a place for me to go, and it was Phoenix House New York. I started on 116th street because I lived in East Harlem at the time, and from there I went to the locations at Far Rockaway and Boerum Street. All in all, I was at Phoenix House from age 15 to 19—that was a long time even back then!
I went through so many changes during my time in the program. It was where I grew up. At 15, Phoenix House was the biggest thing that had ever come into my life, aside from addiction. There, I learned what it was like to be gut-level honest in a safe, protected environment. A lot of my friends from treatment are still dear to my heart. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience. I know the treatment concepts have changed a lot over the years, but overall it’s still that great sense of community and support. When you first start the treatment process it’s like, “Oh, I can’t wait for this to be over!” But I’ll be honest with you; it pays off. I’m really grateful. I remember we had this summer fundraiser called “The Happening” at Phoenix House in 1970, and I was featured on the poster. It said, “Take a chance on a kid.” That was it: Phoenix House took a chance on me.
I remember one of the guys at Phoenix House said, “You have to make a life for yourself.” That stuck with me. Back when I was making myself a life full of drugs, it was boring! After a while all you do is get high, go to sleep, and then wake back up and do it all over again. It’s no fun. I never got to enjoy the real Kevin while I was using; I never even knew who Kevin was. I never knew how to treat other people or how to be kind to myself and love myself. I’ve learned all that in recovery. I’m not self-centered any more, and I can think things through clearly.
When I left Phoenix House, I did relapse because of the peer pressure out there in the world. But that relapse was a turning point for me. I already had that taste of what a good, clean life was like from my time in Phoenix House, and I knew I had to get that back. I realized I needed to apply what I’d learned in treatment; it was one thing to listen and learn, and another thing to actually apply those teachings to real life. So I finally did, and I’ve never looked back. I know now that a drug-free life is the life that’s worth living.
Today, I’ve been sober for 24 and a half years. If I had even more years sober, who knows how far I could have gotten—move over, Barack Obama! I’m a runner, and I’ve run 13 marathons. I’m training for my 14th. I travel, I just got back from Panama. I work for the New York City Department of Sanitation; it’s a great job, a six-figure job. I have two kids, one is autistic but he’s highly functioning. The other is my son’s mother’s child by another man, but he knows me as Dad. They’re both wonderful children and a blessing . I’m close with my brother and my mother, I’m in a relationship, I’m very involved with my church and was honored as their Man of the Year…I live alone, but I’m not lonely. I deal with a bunch of decent people on a daily basis. My life is full!
I don’t try to hide my history. I’ve told people that at one time I was an intravenous drug user, and I can say that freely now without judgment. Folks know I don’t get high anymore—they trust me. If I go to the Red Rooster on Lenox Avenue with some buddies, I’ll get a soda. It’s real simple. It’s great being able to stay drug-free and not think, “Oh, if I turn this corner I might use again.” I don’t feel like that anymore. Even losing my sister, watching her fade away and die, I didn’t think that. Life has ups and downs, but it goes on and it’s a beautiful thing. Today I’m living life on life’s terms. I’m here right now, talking to you, and I’m OK.
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.